A study released this week that analyzes the potential link between climate change and suicide found that suicide rates tended to be higher in months with high temperatures. Published in Nature Climate Change, the research was conducted using data from thousands of American and Mexican neighborhoods over long periods of time. The team found that every 1 degree Celsius above the average for a month was associated with a 0.7% increase in suicide rates in the U.S., and a 2.1% increase in Mexico.
In their analysis, the scientists also incorporated data from social media accounts, in efforts of finding language portraying depression. From evaluating 600 million social media updates, that found that prevalence of depressive language also increased as temperatures exceeded the months average.
Unlike some results of climate change that are mostly confined to coasts, “everyone is going to experience temperature increases,” said the study’s lead author. “The toll from mental health could be incredibly large.” https://t.co/fjEK3R382l
— WBUR (@WBUR) July 25, 2018
The authors conclude that both developed and middle-income areas displayed strong correlation between temperature and suicide rates. They also predict that if climate change is not controlled, suicide numbers could increase in the U.S. and Mexico by 9,000 and 40,000 in the next 30 years. Recent global warming data suggests that by the end of the century, Earth’s temperature will rise by 2 degrees Celsius. If this increase is tethered to a raise in suicide rates, the impact could be devastating.
The exact mechanism between high temperatures and cognitive processes is beyond the scope of this study, but the authors believe that effects of thermoregulation or other neurological processes affected by temperature could potentially cause depressive symptoms.
“If there is going to be adaptation in the future, it has to be unprecedented. It has to be unlike anything we’ve seen over the past half century in the United States,” says Marshall Burke, co-author of the study.